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Bruno Schleinstein | Gravesite Berlin
Berlin-Schoeneberg | St. Matthaeus-Kirchhof 1
[Entrance Großgoerschenstrasse]

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Douglas Martin:
NEW YORK TIMES | August 14, 2010
Bruno S. in "Enigma of Kaspar Hauser"

He wrote songs and sang them on the streets of Berlin. One told of a poor boy who grows up wishing for a little horse. The horse arrives years later pulling his mother’s hearse.

The man who sang it in a croaky voice, accompanying himself on the accordion and glockenspiel, was known as Bruno S. He was a street musician, a painter of pictures, a forklift operator in a steel mill and, at one time, a mental patient. But, perhaps most remarkably, he was the lead actor in a movie that won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1975.

His full name, which he seldom used, was Bruno Schleinstein. He died Wednesday at the age of 78 in Berlin, according to the German Press Agency, quoting his friend the artist Klaus Theuerkauf.

Werner Herzog, one of the innovators of postwar German cinema, twice in the 1970s cast Bruno to play pretty much himself — a damaged but somehow transcendent character.

The first of those films, the one that won at Cannes, was “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser” (1974), based on a true story. In the film the character played by Bruno appears in a square in 19th-century Nuremburg. He cannot speak and can barely stand, having apparently been kept in a kind of dungeon. The only clue to his identity is a paper giving his name as Kaspar and asking that he be taken into service as a soldier.

Kaspar is taught to speak and to read and write, and then, in a fashion as mysterious as his appearance, he is murdered.

Bruno’s acting moved Richard Eder of The New York Times to write: “Kaspar’s extraordinary face, his eyes strained wide to see better, his whole posture suggesting a man trying to swallow, trying to grasp a world of strangeness, is the film’s central image.”

As he learns to speak, Kaspar finds much of society repulsive. “Every man is a wolf to me,” he says. He has no ego: “Nothing lives less in me than my life.”

“The story of Kaspar is more fascinating than the story of Jesus Christ,” Anaïs Nin was quoted as saying in an advertisement for the film.

Bruno Schleinstein was born on June 2, 1932, most likely in Berlin. Some accounts say his mother, a prostitute, had beaten him so badly when he was 3 that he became temporarily deaf. This led to his placement in a mental hospital, where he was the subject of Nazi experiments on mentally disabled children.

Nobody visited him, not even relatives he knew. He spent 23 years in institutions, including jails and homeless shelters. When on his own, he broke into cars for a warm place to sleep.

As an adult he held various jobs, including forklift driver, and began to sing in courtyards around Berlin in the oral tradition that inspired Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera.”

He didn’t sing songs, Bruno said; he transmitted them. One song, “Thoughts Are Free,” concerned the impossibility of finding refuge even in one’s thoughts.

Mr. Herzog first glimpsed Bruno in a 1970 documentary about street musicians.

“I instantly knew he could be the leading character in ‘Kaspar Hauser,’ ” Mr. Herzog said in an interview with NPR in 2006. Bruno did not want his name known, and so Mr. Herzog began calling him “the unknown soldier of cinema.” During filming, Mr. Herzog said, Bruno would have moments of “utter despair” and start talking, sometimes screaming, in the middle of a shot and continue in that way for two hours.

Bruno’s second film, “Stroszek” (1977), was based on his life; Mr. Herzog had written the script expressly for him. Some scenes were shot in Bruno’s own apartment. In the film, Bruno, a prostitute he befriends and his aging landlord move to the mythical Railroad Flats, Wis., where they live in a trailer.

In the film, Bruno, who refers to himself in the third person, has sharp comments about America. “Bruno is still being pushed around,” he says, “not physically but spiritually; here they hurt you with a smile.”

Bruno said in interviews that he had never wanted to be a movie star, and in time the benefits of fame faded, other than the occasional free haircut by a friendly barber.

“Everybody threw him away,” Bruno said of himself.

He continued to carve out a life with his music and artwork, some of which was compelling enough to be exhibited at shows of so-called outsider art, including one in New York. When playing for street audiences, he never asked for money. Sometimes a friend would pass a hat for him. He drew a small pension. He apparently had no survivors.

In 2002, the German filmmaker Miron Zownir made a documentary called “Bruno S. — Estrangement Is Death.” In it, Bruno seems to answer the many who worried that he had been exploited by Mr. Herzog.

“I have my pride, and I can think,” he said, “and my thinking is clever.”

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published in: The Thought Experiment on August 12th, 2010

Bruno Schleinstein

R.I.P. to Bruno S., aka Bruno Schleinstein. June 2, 1932 — August 11, 2010. May you never descend to a  loch der vergessenheit.

Bruno Schleinstein

Mr. S. was most famously featured in the Werner Herzog film Stroszek (1977), which was written expressly for him after his turn as the titular character in Herzog’s The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974). Herzog insisted on Schleinstein for both roles despite his total lack of acting experience. The character of Bruno Stroszek was broadly based on the real-life Bruno Schleinstein, insomuchas he was able to convey himself to Mr. Herzog, though Herzog reports he was suspicious and uncomfortable beneath the focus of the director’s attention.

Bruno Schleinstein playing at NO!-ON show in Berlin, 2003

An unbelievably accomplished accordion player with a love of classic performance, Mr. Schleinstein was an abused child who spent much of his young life in mental institutions. When Herzog knew him, he was an weekend accordion player and forklift driver at a car manufacturers’. Mr. S. had recently quit smoking and drinking for health reasons.

Bruno Schleinstein

“Do you know who that is?” my friend Ingrid had asked me when she came by my family’s apartment one day late last spring. An old musician was seated before a rickety cardboard box below the window. He sang in a croaking voice on the empty sidewalk in the afternoon sunshine, his back toward the brick church across the street.

“That’s Bruno S.,” Ingrid said excitedly. She looked as if she had come across Marlene Dietrich, returned from the dead.

(“From Berlin’s Hole of Forgottenness, a Spell of Songs.” Kimmelmann, Michael. The New York Times. December 24, 2008.)

Bruno Schleinstein

Recently, with Christmas coming, we dropped in to ask how he was doing. This is not a good season for people who are alone. He said he hated the Christmas markets around town, where “the gentlemen who go in come out like plucked chickens with all their feathers flying, and such beautiful colored feathers.” That’s how Bruno tends to talk. He makes up words and phrases or borrows them from old songs and gives them a twist. Liederbann: a spell of songs. Das Loch der vergessenheit: the hole of forgottenness. He says he transmits (durchgeben) his songs, he doesn’t sing them.

When the conversation turns to Mr. Herzog or to his mother or brother and sister, words tend to fail him, and he becomes distraught. Otherwise he’s mischievous, puckish, remote but always glad for the company.

Bruno Schleinstein

Schleinstein says he transmits (German: durchgeben) his songs, he doesn’t sing them.

What a lovely and expressive thought in terms of art and our relationship with the universe. When I write my nonfiction work, I like to describe the process as an archaelogist brushing and digging gently away at a vast skeleton, a fossil buried in the earth which only resembles sense as it takes shape. Once, I read in a philosophy book that a particular german philosopher’s translation of “this is the chair” was better expressed as “The chair gives itself to us.” Is this so and can anyone recall which philosopher? Because that blew my mind.

Bruno S in Werner Herzog's "Enigma of Kaspar Hauser"

R.I.P. again to a true individual. Many happy returns to this earth, Mr. S.

Special thanks to @SashaGrey for bringing Bruno Schleinstein’s death today to my attention, ahead of news and wiki alerts. She’d heard it from Chris Campion. Please do give her a follow on the twitter: like the Transformers and all truly good things in life, there is more to the admirable, lovely and talented Ms. Grey than meets the eye.

edit: This was my original source for this entry. I came online this morning expecting to find more official notices, obits, etc, and none have turned up yet, so if it turns out to be a case of mistaken identity and Mr. S has not yet shuffled off the mortal coil, I will be the first to toast the fact that he’s still with us. Now I’m really looking forward to the chance he’s not yet passed. I’ll keep searching periodically and keep you posted.

edit, 8-12-10, around 5 pm PDT: Fuck, dudes. It looks like Bruno Schleinstein definitely is dead. The German Press Agency is reporting that he died of heart failure. Sorry for the king-sized cuss but I’d got my hopes up earlier today that it was one of those “rumors of my blah have been greatly blah” situations. R.I.P. to Mr. S. again. God bless him and everyone who is always themself no matter what.

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6 Responses to “RIP, Bruno Schleinstein (Bruno S.)”

Colin Caret Says: | August 11, 2010 at 5:05 pm | I have a hunch the philosopher you have in mind is Martin Heidegger. I am no expert in German philosophy, but Heidegger famously discusses the distinction between objects which are “ready-to-hand” and “present-at-hand”. I won’t try to pretend like I understand this distinction, but I think it might be the source of the quote or paraphrase you have in mind.

E. Says: | August 11, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Colin, I am almost certain you are right. The whole “Dasein” thing is feeling right. Thank you!

Cities of the Mind Says: | August 11, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Totally cool. It’s a rare person who is an individual. I know how that sounds, but I said what I said, and I meant what it meant.

Luke Says: | August 12, 2010 at 10:30 am | Very nice entry. Yesterday I finished the chapters on Bruno in HERZOG ON HERZOG and this is saddening news. Something timeless about Bruno I cannot quite express.

Anyway, as to the quote: I’m not sure if the exact quote is attributed to any particular philosopher (though it could certainly be Heidegger), but it springs from the discourse started by Husserl and Sartre and was capped off by Heidegger’s Dasein. My feeling here is that some academic along the way made the claim that a “chair gives itself to us” based on the agitations innate to existential phenomenology.

Thanks for posting

Beth Arzy Says: | August 13, 2010 at 3:53 am | My friend Hannah and I had the rare pleasure to find Bruno one Friday night at Stadtklause in Berlin two months ago. I’d wanted to meet him for the longest time and the evening was most magical. He will be in my heart forever. A truely special, beautiful individual.---Beth

bruno s. is dead | chained and perfumed Says: | August 13, 2010 at 9:01 pm | [...] S., star of Every Man For Himself and God Against Them All has apparently [...]

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Actor and musician known as Bruno S,
chosen by Werner Herzog to play social misfits in his films
Bruno S. in "Stroszek"
Bruno S in in Herzog's film Stroszek, 1977. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

Werner Herzog is a singular film director, drawn to bizarre characters and situations in strange surroundings, with a preoccupation with outsiders who refuse to conform to a limited social structure. So it was not surprising that he was drawn to Bruno Schleinstein, known and credited only as Bruno S, who has died of heart failure aged 78. Even if one had no idea of Bruno's history, one could not fail to sense that there was something extra-artistic in his performances in the title roles of the two films he made with Herzog: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Jeder für Sich und Gott Gegen Alle, 1974) and Stroszek (1977). With his jerky gestures, staccato speech and staring eyes, there seemed to be a thin line between the actor and the characters.

Bruno S, who never knew who his father was, was born in Berlin to a prostitute. At three years old, he was sent to an institution for children with learning difficulties. Thereafter, with almost no education, he spent the next 23 years in various institutions and prisons, and for some time was thought to have suffered from schizophrenia. In the meanwhile, he had taught himself to play various instruments, including the piano, accordion and glockenspiel. He also wrote and sang ballads, which he performed with other musicians in the streets at weekends, while working as a forklift driver at a steel factory.

In 1974, Herzog was looking for someone to play Kaspar Hauser in a film based on the true story of the strange young man who appeared suddenly in the town square in early 19th-century Nuremberg, and who had had no contact with human beings since his childhood. By chance, Herzog happened to see a 1970 documentary which told the story of Bruno S, chronicling his experiences during the Nazi era, during which he was fortunate to escape being put to death, as he was considered "unfit" for society.

In a similar vein to François Truffaut's The Wild Child (1970) and David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980), The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser shows the painful adaptive process of the social misfit to the norms of "civilised" behaviour. Kaspar, who becomes an attraction in high society, feels uneasy in the role, as he does in the dinner jacket he is forced to wear. There was an ironic parallel when Bruno S was lionised when he appeared with Herzog at the 1975 Cannes film festival, where the film won the grand jury prize.

Herzog wrote Stroszek for Bruno S, getting him to play an ex-con, former mental-institution patient and street musician, who, with his elderly neighbour and a prostitute, leave Germany because they can no longer find a "place". They emigrate to America, where they are equally unsuccessful.

According to the critic Roger Ebert: "Werner Herzog's films do not depend on 'acting' in the conventional sense. He is most content when he finds an actor who embodies the essence of a character, and he studies that essence with a fascinated intensity." This "essence" was extracted from Bruno with difficulty.
"Bruno is a man whose life in his youth was catastrophic and obviously made him a 'difficult' person to deal with," Herzog explained. "Sometimes he would stop work by ranting against the injustices of the world. I would stop the entire team in their tracks." Herzog would tell them: "Even if it takes three or four hours of non-stop Bruno speaking about injustice we … would all listen. I would always make physical contact with him. I would always grab him and just hold his wrist. Otherwise, he is a man of phenomenal abilities and phenomenal depth and suffering. It translates on the screen like nothing I have ever done translates on to a screen. He is, for me, the Unknown Soldier of Cinema."

Bruno S, who most often referred to himself in the third person, said that "everybody threw him away" after the initial fame he gained from the Herzog films. However, he took up painting, with some of his work being exhibited in New York in 2002, and he continued to sing in nightclubs.

Bruno Schleinstein (Bruno S), actor, musician and artist, born 2 June 1932; died 11 August 2010

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Actor, musician and outsider artist best known
for his film collaborations with Werner Herzog
By John Riley
THE INDEPENDENT | London | Tuesday, 24 August 2010
Bruno S in Werner Herzog's "Enigma of Kaspar Hauser"

Bruno Schleinstein — or "Bruno S" — was an outsider musician-artist-actor, best-known for his semi-autobiographical portrayals of Kaspar Hauser and Stroszek for Herzog, who described him as "the unknown soldier of German cinema". But his misfortunes led him to cast a baleful gaze over the world.

Schleinstein's prostitute mother beat him so severely that at the age of three he was left temporarily deaf. She dumped him in an asylum and he spent 23 years as a serial escapee and petty criminal, unvisited by siblings and subjected to Nazi experiments. Unexpectedly released, he worked in a Berlin steel mill, and at weekends busked his own and 19th-century popular songs and sold his naïve paintings. One showed a black-smocked doctor grasping his patient's heart.

In 1970 Schleinstein featured in Lutz Eisholz's documentary Bruno der Schwarze — Es bleibt ein Jäger wohl in sein Horn. Werner Herzog saw it and knew that, despite having no acting experience, Schleinstein was perfect for the script he had completed a few days previously.

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (the original title of which was "Jeder für sich und Gott gegen Alle", or "Every Man for Himself and God Against All", 1974) was based on the true story on a young man who mysteriously arrived in Nuremberg in 1828. Having spent his whole life locked in a dungeon, he has no concept of the world, and the film follows his "integration" into society. However, his unusual outlook defeats those who would "civilise" him. A logic problem is deftly defeated with infallible child-like nonsense, while an apple apparently confirms Kaspar's view that it has a will of its own.

Wide-eyed and shock-haired, Schleinstein perfectly balanced the sense of wonder at a new world, and the acceptance of extraordinary events as "normal". He never removed his costume during the shoot, and his strange delivery is intensified by Herzog's insistence that he speak High German rather than his native Berlin dialect. Though it's hard to separate performance and reality, Herzog claimed Schleinstein was drawing on his own life — he did a sketch of himself in the role, entitling it "When I Became Human I Had to Die".

The film won three prizes at Cannes and encouraged Herzog to consider more collaborations. They planned to film Büchner's Woyzeck, but at the last minute Herzog changed his mind and cast Klaus Kinski. As the deflated Schleinstein had already booked unpaid leave from the steel mill, Herzog postponed the film and wrote Stroszek (1977) for him in four days. In it, an alcoholic ex-prisoner ekes out a living as a busker. He befriends Eva, a prostitute, but her pimps beat them up. With a cranky elderly neighbour they leave for Wisconsin, where the film ends in enigmatic tragedy. It drew heavily on Schleinstein's own life: Stroszek shares his first name, it was shot in his apartment and he played the piano he had bought with his fee from Kaspar Hauser. He also improvised a long speech that recalled his own childhood.

But Schleinstein was hard to work with. He was suspicious of strangers and utterly convinced that his fee would be stolen through a set of convoluted plots. Before shooting a scene he might want to discuss his life or rant for a couple of hours, through which Herzog insisted that the crew pay full attention. But paradoxically he enjoyed semi-anonymity: the "Bruno S" name reflected that, as well as how newspapers had abbreviated his name when reporting his childhood crimes. After appearing in Eisholz's Liebe das Leben, lebe das Lieben (Love Living, Live Loving, 1977) he returned to his old life.

Setting himself up in Berlin's courtyards or his favourite pub, the Stadtklause, he never asked for money, but relied on spontaneous giving or for others to gather it on his behalf. Playing accordion with one hand and fumbling with a glockenspiel or a table full of hand-bells with the other, he sang his bleak songs, interrupting himself with spoken elaborations and bronchitic coughs. "Mamatschi", one of his favourites, tells of a child's desire for a horse being fulfilled by the arrival of his mother's hearse.

Sceptical, even embittered, in the documentary Vergangen, vergessen, vorüber ("Long Lost and Lay Me Down", 1994), he looked, without much hope, at the recently reunified Germany. In his chaotic flat on Berlin's whore-dotted Kurfürstenstrasse was a painting of Angela Merkel as the statue of liberty in the moon's crescent. He observed that adding a little moustache would make her give a Hitler salute.

Rising interest in outsider art brought more interest, exhibitions and sales. He released a CD and was the subject of the documentaries Der Fremde ist der Tod ("Estrangement is Death", 2003), based on his writings, and Seeing Things (2008), in which he experiments with a newly acquired laptop and scanner. Some felt that Herzog had used Schleinstein and then cast him aside. Speaking, as so often, in the third person, Schleinstein said "everyone threw him away". But he always insisted on doing things his own cussed way. In any case, he and Herzog eventually met and hugged in the Stadtklause.


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By Jacques Mandelbaum
LE MONDE | Paris | 2010
Bruno S dans "L'Enigme de Kaspar Hauser"

1974 "The Riddle of Kaspar Hauser", by Werner Herzog | 1977 "The Ballad of Bruno", by Werner Herzog | August 11, 2010 Death in Berlin | A poet with a raw sensitivity who donated his body to the 7th art as others do to science: this is the memory of the German actor Bruno Schleinstein, who died on August 11 in Berlin of a heart attack at the age of 78.

But who will share this memory? Bruno Schleinstein's film career was not such that the general public, and especially the younger generation, can now remember this strange and endearing man, who passed through the film world like a meteor. In any case, those familiar with the work of director Werner Herzog, a figure of the new German cinema who gave him his chance in the 1970s, will never forget him.

Ideal medium

Bruno Schleinstein was born on June 2, 1932 in Berlin to an unknown father. His childhood was devastated, abused, violated, and spent for the most part in orphanages and psychiatric institutions. He left in 1955, to lead an unstable life, made of various small jobs.

At the same time, he cultivated his love of music and drawing. He sings in the streets and courtyards of Berlin, traditional ballads or personal compositions, accompanying himself with his accordion or his glockenspiel, drawing texts for his songs.

His path eventually crossed that of Werner Herzog, whose work shows a notorious predilection for the abysses of madness, marginal characters, the Promethean challenge to the social order. The filmmaker noticed him in 1970 in a documentary on street musicians directed by Lutz Eisholz, Brunoder Schwarze, es blies ein Jäger wohl in sein Horn ("Bruno le noir, un chasseur soufflait dans sa corne").

The filmmaker sensed in the suffering, rage and tenderness of this deeply moving character an ideal medium for his cinema. Bruno Schleinstein was to become a brief but incandescent companion, before Klaus Kinski replaced him in Werner Herzog's career. Less publicized and spectacular, the relationship between Herzog and Schleinstein was no less intense, furious and exhausting.

Two magnificent films mark the milestones. The film was inspired by a news item in the early 19th century, in which a child deprived of contact with society suddenly reconnects with civilization in the city of Nuremberg. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1975.

Stroszek (Bruno's Ballad, 1977), written in four days by its director, is explicitly inspired by the actor's life, evoking the departure to the United States, in the company of an old man and a prostitute, of a young man from the asylum, morally and socially exhausted by German society.

Despite the recognition that these roles bring him, Bruno Schleinstein, in truth unassimilable by the film world, devotes himself exclusively to music and painting. He was later to be seen in a few works by the director and committed photographer Jan Ralske, which were sufficiently confidential that this anti-actor remained, in the words of Werner Herzog, "the unknown soldier of the cinema".

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Mourning for BRUNO SCHLEINSTEIN - ARTIST, ACTOR, MUSICIAN AND OUTSIDE LOSER | Bezirksamt Berlin-Lichtenberg | Press Release | 17.08.2010 16:21 Uhr | Bruno Schleinstein passed away two days ago at the age of 78. He will be remembered by many people as an outcast, but above all as a distinctive artist, actor and musician.

The District Councillor for Culture and Citizens' Services Katrin Framke (Die Linke) and the Director of the Museum Lichtenberg, Ms. Christine Steer declare: "As we had to learn today (August 13, 2010), Bruno Schleinstein passed away two days ago at the age of 78. The death of Bruno Schleinstein fills us with sadness. We got to know and appreciate Bruno at various commemorative events organized by the Lichtenberg district office in cooperation with the working group Marginalized Yesterday and Today in memory of the persecution of so-called asocials during the Nazi era at the former Rummelsburg workhouses. As a marginalized person, an outcast, but above all as an unmistakable artist, actor and musician, he will be remembered by us and many others. At the events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Arbeitsscheu Reich action by the Nazi regime in Rummelsburg and at other events, such as the opening of the exhibition "Homeless in National Socialism" in the Museum Lichtenberg, Bruno captivated his audience authentically and touchingly with his ballads and songs and his special performance style. In the book "ausgesteuert - ausgegrenzt ... angeblich asozial", edited by Anne Allex and Dietrich Kalkan and the film by Andreas Behrendt "arbeitsscheu-abnormal-asozial" - on the history of the Berlin workhouses Bruno plays a "leading role".

As Lothar Eberhardt of the AK Marginalized informed, the funeral service organized by his friends Klaus Theuerkauf and Franz will take place on Sunday, August 15, starting at 5 p.m. in Bruno's favorite pub, the Stadtklause directly at the Anhalterbahnhof, Bernburger Straße 35.

We will continue to research the history of the Rummelsburg workhouses and honor the memory of people like Bruno Schleinstein with the artistic urban marking of the Rummelsburg area planned for the coming year."

Bruno Schleinstein: Born on June 2, 1932 in Berlin-Friedrichshain, died on August 11, 2010 in Berlin-Tiergarten; third child from an illegitimate relationship; his mother gave him to a home in about 1937; from 1941 housed in Haus Wiesengrund of the Wittenau sanatoriums; escaped and picked up again several times; victim of medical experiments; after the war, among other things. Placed in a psychiatric institution, where Bruno learns to play the accordion; homeless, then working as a warehouse worker, forklift driver, construction worker; in his spare time, on the road as a musician in the backyards of the old town neighborhoods; discovered in the 1970s by filmmaker Werner Herzog; 1974 first starring role in the film "Every man for himself and God against all - Kaspar Hauser"; since 2008, recognized under the Law for the Politically and Racially Persecuted as a "Reich Committee Child."

Lichtenberg District Office
District Councilwoman for Culture and Civic Services Katrin Framke
Tel.: 030-90296 37 00 | e-mail:

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